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Analyzing Colorado State’s depth chart before the Rocky Mountain Showdown

A look at how the Rams might lineup vs. the Buffs next week

NCAA Football: Air Force at Colorado State Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado State Rams are one of eight college football teams playing this weekend with a matchup against Hawaii (5:30 p.m. MT, TV: CBSSN). CSU head coach Mike Bobo released the depth chart on Tuesday and provides some insight as to which Rams players might be starting in next week’s Rocky Mountain Showdown. Here’s a breakdown on what the Colorado Buffaloes are expected to face for the in-state rivalry.

Offense

Quarterback: K.J. Carta-Samuels

A graduate transfer from Washington who’s enters his first real starting experience after backing up Jake Browning. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound ‘QB 1’ for CSU has attempt a total of 47 passes in the past three seasons with the Huskies, despite being one of the top-rated recruits from the 2014 class from Bellarmine Prep HS (Tacoma, Wash.). Carta-Samuels took over at Bellarmine for former CU quarterback Sefo Liufau, who still holds numerous school records. Behind Carta-Samuel is New Orleans freshman dual-threat QB Justice McCoy and injured sophomore Collin Hill.

Running Back: Izzy Matthews

The 2018 Doak Walker Award preseason watch list candidate enters his senior season being tied for fifth on CSU all-time touchdown list with 26 career TD’s. Behind Matthews is former Mullen HS product Marcus McElroy, who’s looking to get experience carrying the ball in his sophomore year after playing the majority of last season on special teams.

Fullback: Adam Prentice

Prentice played in all 13 games with six starts as the lead blocker for the Rams last season. The 2018 Wuerffel Trophy preseason watch list candidate has been at CSU since 2015 with two redshirt seasons (one for injury). He’ll be playing ahead of senior Nate Ryken.

Wide Receiver: Olabisi Johnson, Warren Jackson, Preston Williams

Johnson is the go-to option as the only senior among the Rams receiving corps. He caught 41 passes for 595 yards and two touchdowns last season. The receiver looking to make the biggest impact is Jackson, who’s a large target standing tall at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds and posing a difficult matchup for any secondary. Jackson didn’t record more than three receptions in each of the nine games he played last season, but made the best of his time by averaged 19.1 yards per catch. Williams comes to Fort Collins as a high-touted five-star transfer from Tennessee. Backing up the trio of Johnson, Jackson and Williams is Greeley native Brenden Fulton and true freshman Nikko Hall.

Tight End: Cameron Butler

The 2018 John Mackey Award preseason watch list candidate comes into his sophomore season trying to live up to the hype. He’s joined by third-year sophomore Isiah Pannunzio and freshman Trey McBride.

Left Tackle: Barry Wesley

The 6-foot-6, 310-pound lineman from Bear Creek HS appears to have beat out Louisville graduate transfer T.J. Roundhouse for the starting role. Wesley is the most impressive walk-on to the program throughout the spring and coming out of fall camp.

Left Guard: Tyler Bjorklund

The least experienced position at CSU with Bjorklund having three starts last season, along with no games played for backup redshirt freshman Joctavis Phillips.

Center: Colby Meeks

Meeks shifts on the offensive line after starting at left guard in 2017. The senior has played in every game in the past two seasons (26 total, nine starts). Meeks is ahead of Scott Brooks on the depth chart, who played one game last season.

Right Guard: Jeff Taylor

The big man has shuffled around on the offensive line and starts 2018 at the same position he ended at last season for the New Mexico Bowl vs. Marshall. Taylor enters his junior season with experience in 20 games going back to 2016 as a true freshman. He’s ahead of freshman Ches Jackson, who might find his way into the lineup before the end of the season.

Right Tackle: Ben Knox

The senior is one of the most experience lineman for the Rams after transferring from Independence Community College (Kan.) two years ago. Knox, an original recruit of South Florida, has restructured his career in Fort Collins after being arrested for discharging a firearm in a USF dorm in 2015. He played 11 games at right tackle and helped to allow an average of a sack per game last season. Knox is backed up by Fort Collins native Salofi Gaoa.

Defense

Left Defensive End: Emmanuel Jones

A sophomore from Cartersville, Ga., Jones led the Rams in tackles for loss with six in 2017, despite missing the New Mexico Bowl due to injury. He’s joined alongside senior Caleb Smith in a backup role this season. Both players are making the transition from playing linebacker last season to accommodate CSU’s new 4-3 defensive scheme.

Right Defensive End: Richard King

One of the most experienced Rams defenders, King led the team with 2.5 sacks last year. The Rangeview HS (Aurora, Colo.) graduate and has played in a total of 24 games (five starts). King is ahead of true freshman Brandon Derrow on the depth chart.

Nose Tackle: Devin Phillips

As a true freshman, Phillips is thrown right into the thick of CSU’s plans on defense and coming highly-regarded as a ESPN300 list athlete. As of now, he’s slotted as the No. 1 ahead of JUCO transfer Damion Dickens.

Defensive Tackle: Ellison Hubbard

Hubbard played in all 13 games as a freshman and will be starting as a sophomore ahead of Livingston Paogofie. Neither players has much experience at the position going into next season.

Strong Side Linebacker: Tre Thomas

A hometown force from Overland HS (Aurora, Colo.), Thomas hasn’t missed a game since coming to CSU in 2014. He had a total of 41 tackles (two for loss), and an interception return for a touchdown vs. Oregon State last season. Thomas is backed up by fellow Colorado native and Mullen graduate Tanner Clem.

Middle Linebacker: Josh Watson

Watson is a Ram worth watching this season. The All-Mountain West Honorable Mention led the team with 109 tackles last season. He’s joined by Anthony Giusti as a backup.

Weak Side Linebacker: Max McDonald

The true Fort Collins native played in all 13 games last season, recording 57 tackles along with 1.5 sacks for the Rams. The Junior has the second-most experience among the linebackers and ahead of Trey Sutton on the depth chart.

Cornerbacks: V.J. Banks, Rashad Ajayai

Banks comes to CSU as a graduate transfer from Rice, bringing 36 games of experience to the table. The former Owl will play opposite true freshman Ajayai, who said to be a playmaker in fall camp. Long Beach City College transfer Dajon Owens and junior Anthony Hawkins are currently second string to Banks and Ajayai.

Safeties: Jordan Fogal, Jamal Hicks

Both Fogal and Hicks have experience in the secondary for the Rams. Fogal was the team’s second-leading tackler with a total of 71 last year. Hicks played in eight games before suffereing an arm injury. The duo are backed up by Braylin Scott and Quinn Brinnon.

Special Teams

Punt Returner: Olabisi Johnson

No changes for the Rams from last year. Fellow receiver Brenden Fulton will take on the role as a backup to Johnson.

Kick Returner: Marcus McElroy, Anthony Hawkins

Neither player has FBS experience at the position.

Punter: Ryan Stonehouse

The 2018 Ray Guy preseason watch list nominee currently holds the fifth best average in the nation with 45.9 yards per attempt.

Kicker: Wyatt Bryan

Bryan is one of the most accurate kickers in CSU history and is tied for fourth in school history with 42 made field goals.

Game notes

Colorado meets Colorado State in the 90th edition of the Rocky Mountain Showdown next Friday (8/31) at Mile High Stadium in Denver. The Buffaloes have won the past three meetings and hold a 65-22-2 advantage in the series.